What have you done, Mr. Menzies?

black jack randall
Tobias Menzies as Capt. (Black) Jack Randall in Outlander. My edit from two screenshots

It was not my intention to watch Outlander. I have not read the books and the pictures that I had seen in tumblr didn’t appeal me particularly. My personal tv series dealer told me that she could send it to me if I wanted to, and I accepted attracted by the curiosity to see a dwarf of Thorin’s company without the prosthetics (Mr. McTavish, I have another post in my cartridge bealt for you).

To be honest, I didn’t like the first chapter at all; the photography was awesome, the landscape breathtaking but I must confess that it hurted me a litle to see “my Brutus” as the dull stallion Frank Randall. Fortunately, in the last minutes of the chapter, Randall’s wickedly twisted alter ego and ancestor appears, making me hope for the best.

Indeed the more chapters I’ve watched the more I like the series: the story gained in rythm and interest although I felt more attracted not by the main roles but by the supporting ones. I have always liked time travel stories, but I must confess that the heroic and full of resources Claire irritated me a little as left me small hopes of success in an hypothetical time travel to the XVIIth century Highlands, given that my inexistent abilities as nurse would led me to be no more than a kitchen maid in the McKenzie’s castle.

My favourites chapters so far are the fourth and the sixth, what I call the “revelation chapters”: in each of them the performance of a single actor has striken me. Chapter four is for Mr. McTavish (again, be patient, your turn will arrive ) and the sixth for Mr. Menzies.

As I mentioned before he played Marcus Iunius Brutus in the first season of “Rome”, and I have seen him also in “Persuasion”, “Spooks” and “Game of Thrones” (unfortunately in the season I liked the less).

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Tobias Menzies as Brutus and Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar in HBO’s “Rome”. My screencap.

In all these series Mr. Menzies plays ambiguous characters: Brutus is divided between his love for Caesar and the devotion owed to his family and the Republic. The fresh and young Home Secretary Andrew Lawrence of Spooks has undoutebdly something to hide (please note that I have still to watch the last chapter of season 8), and, the Mr. Eliot of “Persuasion”, although he makes a triumphal entrance…

persuasion
The first scene of Tobias Menzies in “Persuasion”, very caspardfriedrichlike. My edit from a screencap

… the character reveals himself as an irritating asshole. Undoubtedly one has to be a good actor to achieve that.

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Tobias Menzies as the irritating Mr. Eliot

I wonder what was Mr. Menzies’ reaction when he first read the script of the sixth chapter of Outlander. Did he jump on the couch? Said “yes! yes! yes!” as if his favourite football team had won the Champions League? Because that character and specially that script would make any actor the happiest man in the world. Another confession, I feel a little bit hurt for not having had the chance to see (yet, I long for Digital Theatre to release “The Crucible”) Richard Armitage playing a scene and a character like that. That half an hour in the screen is like a symphony of acting and writing; I will talk about it dividing it in movements.

*****WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW*****

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Jack Randall. Overture. My screencap

The overture. Jack Randall enters the room where the English commander, Lord Thomas, is dining with his men. The clash between Capt. Randall and his superior is instantaneous and, when Thomas reproaches Randall for bringing a lot of dust in the room he leaves and in the threshold of the room he stomps his feet and cleans his jacket, glancing all of them with contempt. Because Randall sees where the others are blind, he despises them all because he realises that there is something wrong with Claire and Dougal. He needs information, and obtains it talking of the English soldier killed cruelly by the Scottish, Claire replies talking about the highlanders crucified in the fields; he then counter attacks hinting maliciously that there is something between her and Dougal. Claire, hurt, makes a passionate defense of the Scottish, betraying herself. Jack Randall 1 – Claire Beuchamp 0

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First movement begins – my screencap

Movement I – The Examination

When Claire returns to the dining room after nursing a wounded soldier, Jack Randall is shaved by his attendant. In that instant there is a a flashback-forward of “the good” Frank Randall being shaved by Claire during the war using that same blade. After that, examination begins and with it the deception game set up by the mischevious red coat: he appears in a first moment dangerous, razor in hand, to apologise a very few moments later for what happened the first time they two met. His purpose is to make us all feel at ease before the interrogatory. When she’s about to tell the old known story of the Oxfordshire lady assaulted by bandits he encourages her, even kindly, to tell another one. He summarises what he knows and insists to have the truth. As Claire sinks deeper and deeper in her lie, instead of reacting with anger, he makes a theatrical pose, as if hurt.

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Peak of the first movement; the theatrical pose. My screencap

That pause perplexes her, and she is even more confused by his next move. He stands and very slowly takes a charcoal from his redcoat, sharpens it, and makes her portrait in a handkerchief, calling the piece “beautiful lies”. Always calm and cold blooded proposes her a deal: to spy the Scottish for him. After her obvious denial, everything is ready for the second movement.

Movement II – The mousetrap

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After announcing Claire that he has “his methods” to make her confess, he starts his masterpiece. Which is not, as he will describe later, the work of art created by his flog: the broken back covered with blood of the young McTavish and his silence despite the torture, but how Randall deceives Claire and us, hinting to his humanity, ending this sentence the thought of the whip going down that pityful raw flesh made my stomach flutter and my legs shake with another theatrical pose.

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The theatrical pose of the second movement. My screencap

The sadistic description of the flogging continues for several minutes, accompanied by a superb crescendo score which makes you arrive to the end of the scene even breathless, and shocked as Claire is. If Randall’s monologue were limited to the blood, the pain, the screams and disgust of the crowd there will be no room for mercy towards the torturer but Claire, and the audience, are being deceived also by the existence of the Randall of the future who is a good man incapable of such a cruelty. Of course the XVIIIth century Randall is not aware of this, but he unconsciously (and here is where the actor consciously plays his part) sprinkles his discourse to references of the tortured man’s feelings or his own’s. He has fulfilled his promise to Claire, to reveal himself, and she abdicates. As we all have. If he is capable to analise and understand his wickedness maybe there’s room for salvation. He agrees, maybe he’s able to do the right thing and maybe the first right thing to do is to accompany her to Inverness to start her way back home.

Finale – The Truth

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Finale – Do not trust anybody. My screencap

I recognised I’ve shouted when I’ve seen the unexpected punch Randall gives Claire. The key of his personality is in what he tells her, grasping her hair, his face red with fury but with a calm, deep voice I dwell in darkness, madam, and darkness is where I belong. I need no sympathy from you and you’ll get none from me. This sentence reminded me suddenly the one I have used for the fanart opening this (very long) post, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Medea saying “I need and approve of the better, but I follow the worst”. Black Jack Randall is not mad, he has no excuse, he consciously chooses the evil, and he likes it. There’s no room for doubt either, as he calls the caporal outside the door and orders him to kick Claire, adding “it’s very freeing“.

This scene forms from now on part of my top-ten ever favourite tv scenes, thanks to an incredible writing, and an incredible Tobias Menzies.

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4 thoughts on “What have you done, Mr. Menzies?

    1. I will first revise chapter 4 and I have to write before a rather bitter post about Spooks 8…. Something on the line “why Sarah Caufield?” or “what are we going to do without Ros?” 😦

  1. This book is an all-time favorite (though not her later ones). I watched episode 1 when Starz streamed it free online and loved it, especially the casting of Menzies and the exquisite McTavish as Dougal. Sadly I don’t have cable so I cannot watch the others! When it comes out on DVD I will binge-watch and savor the heinous wickedness of Black Jack 🙂

    1. You’ve nailed Mr. McTavish performance: “exquisite”. I will add also “flawless”.
      The “baddies” are always my favourite characters in screen, because they’re really difficult do perform. there’s always the risk of overacting and cheap histrioniscs; that’s why Mr. Menzie’s interpretation is perfect, it does not have neither one or the other.

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